Walking in the Footsteps of Regina Jonas

by Gail Reimer

Walking out the door of my hotel room on the first day of my first trip to Berlin, (a trip I had determinedly avoided for many years), I was on guard and immediately caught off guard. As I entered the Hackescher Market just steps from the hotel, I found myself face to face with a large size portrait of Regina Jonas on a kiosk that also detailed her story. Leaving the hotel I was still in the mindset of “What am I doing here?” But the kiosk shifted me to thinking, what was Rabbiner Jonas doing here? Why here? Why now?

The kiosk, I soon learned, was one of more than 150 placed all around Berlin. Part of a citywide exhibition titled “Diversity Destroyed: Berlin 1933-1938-1945,” the kiosks were designed to make known the stories of the wide range of prominent individuals who contributed to the cultural landscape of early 1930s Berlin before falling victim to Nazi persecution. “By retrieving their stories from our historical archives and raising public awareness of their legacy at locations across Berlin,” the organizers wrote, “we seek to preserve their memory and reveal the faces behind the events."

The occasion for this exhibition was the 80th anniversary of the National Socialists’ rise to power in 1933 and the 75th anniversary of the November pogrom, or Kristallnacht, in 1938. That was last summer.

Just weeks after I encountered the portrait of Regina Jonas in the middle of Hackescher Market, Dr. Gary Zola, Executive Director of the American Jewish Archives, contacted me to discuss another project designed to preserve the memory of Regina Jonas, a project he’d proposed to the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. As Dr. Zola talked about his plan to have the four American women who were the first ordinees of their denominations present at the installation of a plaque at Terezin memorializing Regina Jonas, I began to feel that this historic occasion demanded the presence of more than a handful of people. The intimate ceremony initially imagined thus morphed into a five-day journey of thirty-four people to Berlin, Terezin and Prague, honoring the life and memory of Rabbi Regina Jonas. 

This unique journey begins next week. The four “first” American women Rabbis will be accompanied by several other pioneering women rabbis, distinguished historians, educators, and Jewish leaders. Over the course of the five day trip, we will be visiting major sites of Jewish memory, learning from experts on the ground as well as each other, and exploring questions about lost histories, critical legacies, memory and memorialization, and women, Judaism and change.

Many people who were unable to come on the trip asked that we share these encounters and explorations more widely. We created this blog for that purpose and plan to post regularly throughout the trip.  For many of the participants the journey has already begun as they’ve read about Regina Jonas, struggled to understand why she’d been forgotten, thought about who she might have become, wrestled with complicated feelings about visiting places they had long avoided, and more. Over the next few days we will be posting some of their pre-trip reflections on the historic importance and personal significance of the upcoming journey. As always, we welcome reader comments and responses.

An image of Regina Jonas on a street kiosk in Berlin, Germany, part of a citywide exhibition titled “Diversity Destroyed: Berlin 1933-1938-1945.”

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Walking in the Footsteps of Regina Jonas." (Viewed on January 22, 2021) <https://jwa.org/rabbis/regina-jonas-remembered/walking-in-footsteps-of-regina-jonas>.


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